The Economist Is a Newspaper, Even Though It Doesn’t Look Like One

The first issue of The Economist, a newspaper. (The Economist)

The first issue of The Economist, a newspaper. (The Economist)

The Economist, a weekly publication that look a lot like a magazine, is actually a newspaper. Today, in a blog post in honor of its 170th birthday (and sponsored by GE), the magazine newspaper explains why it insists on calling itself a newspaper.

It all goes back to the beginning.

When the publication launched in 1843, founder  James Wilson described it a “a weekly paper, to be published every Saturday”. In the first issue, which hit newsstands (or whatever the 1843 equivalent of newsstands was) 170 years ago today called itself  a “political, commercial, agricultural, and free-trade journal” (The Economist notes that it used Oxford commas back in the heady early days).

The paper, like movies, was black and white until the mid 1900s. In 1959, it introduced the now-familiar red logo and in 1971, color (or, as the British publication writes “colour”) covers. It wasn’t until 2001 that the actual contents were printed in color. But by then, the term “newspaper” was already entrenched. Old habits die hard.

Besides, the publication thinks of itself more like a newspaper than a magazine. After all, the word “magazine” comes from French. And, like all newspapers (apparently?), the publication’s goal is to be the ultimate desert island source of world news.

The Economist, moreover, still considers itself more of a newspaper than a magazine in spirit. Its aim is to be a comprehensive weekly newspaper for the world. If you are stranded on a desert island and can have only one periodical air-dropped to you to keep up with world news, our hope is that you would choose The Economist. That goal is arguably more in keeping with the approach of a newspaper than a magazine. The latter term derives from the French word for storehouse and implies a more specific publication devoted to a particular topic, rather than coverage of current affairs.

Okay. The Economist wins. From now on, we will honour publication’s wishes and refer to the weekly magazine-type periodical as a ‘newspaper.’